Airbus A320; the fastest selling airliner today.
In March 1984, the infant European aerospace consortium now known as Airbus Industries introduced a new aircraft. The commercial aerospace market was dominated by the United States of America at that time. Giants like Boeing and McDonnel Douglas produced popular aircraft of the time. Airbus needed a breakthrough. Its A300 series wasn’t just enough to break the duopoly. It needed to break the market with something completely innovative. Therefore, it introduced the Airbus A320. Arguably Airbus’ greatest contribution to the world of commercial aviation.
It would become the fastest selling commercial jet today. The concept behind it was daring and revolutionary. It was the first commercial airliner to have a fully digital ‘fly-by-wire’ control system. Setting the start point for modern fly by wire commercial airliners for the times to come. It also introduced the ‘side stick’ instead of the conventional yoke for the pilots. The cockpit design was also innovative as it was “glass cockpit”. Replacing conventional instruments with integrated screens for ease of interpretation. It also introduced ‘cockpit commonality’ between aircraft types so pilots could transition easily between types. Airlines saved huge costs because of this feature.
The Airbus A320 set the standard for safety of operation with its new digital flight controls and reliable computer systems. As of today, the Airbus A320 is among the safest airliners in the world. With a fatal hull loss rate of just 0.12 per million take-offs. The systems and redundancy designed into the A320 makes it safe, reliable, efficient and a workhorse.
The very first A320 flew in February 1987. And it was delivered to Air France, the launch customer in 1988. That was just one A320. Today, Airbus has estimated that an A320 family aircraft takes-off or lands somewhere in the world every 2.5 seconds!
The A320 falls in the narrow-body market. The A320 family has the following airplanes; A318, A319, A320 and A321. The business jet derivative is called the A320CJ. The smallest variant is the A318 and the largest variant, the A321 can seat up to 236 passengers. The range varies from 3,000 kilometers to 12,000 kilometers depending on the configuration and variant.
Over the three decades since first introduction, many things have been added into the avionics and the fuselage of the aircraft. Every addition just making it more fuel efficient and easy to maintain. Which is why the A320 is very popular with low-cost carriers.
The latest addition to the A320 family is the A320neo. NEO stands for New Engine Option. The neo series, most importantly, has newer engine options for maximum fuel economy. It also features the advanced winglets called ‘sharklets’ by Airbus for efficient flight performance. It was initially introduced in 2010 and as of now has about 6,000 firm orders with more than 70 airlines. This makes the A320neo the fastest selling commercial aircraft.
The A320’s primary rival today, is the Boeing 737 family. The Boeing 737 is dubbed “the most successful commercial jet in history”. While in absolute figures, that is correct, but the 737 was introduced 20 years before the A320. So if you really want to compare the two, start comparing after 1984.
From 1984 to present day, the A320 has outsold the 737 by almost 500 airplanes. And even in the total number of airplanes sold, the gap is awfully close even though the 737 has a massive head start of 20 years.
Boeing has produced about 10,000 737’s from 1967 to 2019. And Airbus is just behind at some 9000 despite starting production 20 years later in 1987. It is quickly catching up and will soon be the most popular, and the most sold commercial jet of all time.
(Update: As of October 2019, Airbus A320 has surpassed Boeing 737 in absolute sales and is now the undisputed most popular airliner of all time)
If you have traveled in an airplane, there’s a lot of chances that it has been an A320. Hundreds are in the air right now as you read these lines. As the paradigm is shifting from large airliners to smaller, efficient and easy to manage aircraft, we will see the A320 reigning the skies of the future.
Long live the A320. Fly forever.
Do you know how Airbus names their airplanes? Check out this article!
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